NYC Designers to Watch in 2017

A Quick Look at the Emerging Young Talent on New York’s Interior Design Scene


In our quest to bring up-to-the-minute design trends and colorful inspiration to the Design in Color community, we would be remiss to exclude an introduction to some of the freshest faces and smartest style makers in the NYC field of design. We’ve compiled a short list of diverse designers who have made a big impact on the interior design industry, all of them with a distinctive New York City edge. Here’s who we have our eye on for the coming year.

Danielle Arps

Pratt Institute grad Danielle “Dani” Arps is the current authority on inventive and inviting office design in New York City’s ever-expanding tech startup scene. And her talents are not confined to commercial spaces alone. As skilled as she is at transforming an office into a home away from home, she just as dexterously makes residential spaces “work.”

Arps breathes life into industrial spaces using rich, natural materials, simple greenery, exquisite colors, and a minimalist approach to design. The folks at Curbed took notice, honoring Arps with a recent induction into their Young Guns Class of 2016, a pool of talented young designers who are making waves in the design industry.

Images of herself and her interior design work provided by Danielle Arps.

“I’m inspired by the talent and diversity of the people living here,” Arps said of living and owning a company in New York City. “Everyone I encounter has an incredible skill that they’re honing—that general sense of drive pushes me to want to work just as hard to be a thoughtful and curious designer.”

That curiosity has led her to the world of commercial design, where she enjoys a certain measure of freedom that is not so readily available in residential design projects. “Commercial design is more about the designer’s perspective. I find that residential is infinitely more personal, as it should be. Each item has to be loved by the client. And while they’ve chosen to work with you because they like your style, it’s still their home and they have to live in the space every day.”

However, Arps believes that the process and approach for any client—whether commercial or residential—is the same. “I think functionality and concept are the first steps needed to create any well-designed space. [The goal is to] make sure the overall look of the space is something that you and your client both agree on.”

Arps makes a compelling argument for her clients: If the workspace is well-planned and beautiful, you’ll see returns. Employees will be happier, more energized, and more productive. An artfully designed startup office is more than just transforming an industrial space. It’s an investment in the future of your enterprise and the people building it up from the ground.

Drew McGukin

Drew McGukin pairs the utmost refinement with a strong presence to bring distinction and warmth to his design projects. For McGukin and his team at Drew McGukin Interiors, it’s all about well-thought-out divergences. He employs audacious color palettes with sleek sophistication, industrial lighting with luscious textures, classic design with outlandish patterns. And somehow, it all works, despite the fact that he frequently casts aside commonly accepted rules in favor of letting his designs speak boldly. His work reminds us that pushing the boundaries of the known is what being a designer in the current climate is all about.

When asked about his approach to color, McGukin said it’s “about creating a balance that reads as soulful, layered, and artistic. Color needs to radiate and feel expressive without jarring and jolting your senses. Color can tie elements together and help create a sense of flow or circulation as well. For me it’s all about layers and weaving in just the right tensions when it comes to color.”

Images of himself and his design work provided by Drew McGukin.

His use of ultramarine blues in a striking yet refined way for a Chelsea high-rise penthouse is our personal favorite—although it was hard to pick only one. Apparently the client was just as smitten as we are and tapped McGukin for another residence on the opposite coast, in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.

McGukin explained the process: “The project required weaving in some existing furniture pieces and art, then adding to create a new and beautiful home that was fresh and different. One of the most exciting parts of the project for me was the client’s willingness to take risks. We created wonderful colors, custom finishes, and details throughout. I can’t wait to share the images in 2017. There’s an awesome hand-painted and blocked wall treatment in the two-story entry-hall stairwell that is breathtaking in soft blues, grays, whites, ambers, and everything in between!”

This vivid description makes us excited to see his latest project for ourselves.

Kim Markel

The element that sets Kim Markel apart is her commitment to adaptable, conscientious design. Markel, spurred by her background in environmental public policy, is devoted to using recycled materials for her handcrafted designs—because she realizes the potential in the most unexpected resources. Her key ingredient, discarded plastics, is transformed in her capable hands into translucent, dreamworld homewares in playful color gradients that are guaranteed to start a conversation—perhaps even one about sustainability in interior design.

Her candy-colored Glow chairs have made a splash in the New York design community and beyond, somehow managing to be whimsical and fresh while carrying off a fine-art aesthetic that wouldn’t be out of place in New York’s top galleries. We think Markel put it poetically when she said, “Color can evoke a feeling without language; it’s such a powerful thing.”

Images of herself and her design pieces provided by Kim Markel.

As a designer, Markel acknowledged that remembering where we’ve been can help us determine where we’re headed creatively, that the things we loved as children can be reused in a different context: “Lately I’ve been drawn to colors that are reminiscent of things I’ve found to be magical—many times, nostalgic in some way. The pieces I’m currently making reference the colors and textures of my childhood—an early ’90s compilation of beach glass, jelly shoes, and whimsically strange plastic toys. By referencing similar color and texture, I’m hoping to bring a similar sense of whimsy to objects that function in an adult world.”

Markel’s use of childlike color is a huge success, and her commitment to reimagining discarded materials is what makes her collection of Glow furnishings and accessories truly magical.

Tamara Stephenson

Tamara Stephenson is no stranger to the art of crafting beautiful spaces, having started her design career in 2000 and currently a co-owner with business partner and friend Susan Young of Root Cellar Designs, an East Hampton design boutique which has received nods of approval from numerous publications for Stephenson’s in-the-know style. Stephenson’s aesthetic has been described as “sophisticated cottage,” which perfectly suits the boutique fabrics and textiles that are the bread and butter of the Root Cellar name.

The textiles are at once vintage and eclectic, classic and fashion-forward, and we love the many ways we’ve seen Root Cellar put them to use. Root Cellar’s tablescapes have turned heads at countless benefits and galas for their distinctive flair and smartly composed themes. We are also fond of Nest by Tamara, Stephenson’s popular design and lifestyle blog, which is full of inspirational images and helpful tips for designers and design enthusiasts alike.

Images of her design work provided by Tamara Stephenson.

“At Root Cellar Designs, we love color and playing with combinations that are often unexpected,” Stephenson said. “Although we are partly traditionalists in terms of design, we love a modern, fresh appeal, and our patterns and colors combine those sensibilities. Almost all our designs are originally inspired by something historic, then we turn it a little bit on its side to create a modern design not seen before in the industry.”

We love that Root Cellar’s signature style is both accessible and friendly, with a generous dash of curated whimsy, but that the wall treatments always end up elevating a space—no matter the size—to a larger-than-life high-end feel.

There are far more rising stars in our city’s bustling interior design scene than we’re able to mention here, but the young professionals we’ve highlighted are true standouts in their field, and we think we can expect great things from each and every one of them.

Who else should we have our eye on? Tell us in the comments who you think will be the next big thing in New York City’s design world.